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Choosing the best collar (or harness) for your dog

As pet care has advanced, so have pet accessories. If you go shopping for a collar, leash, or harness for your dog, you may find the array of styles and terminology dizzying. To help you make more informed choices, we’ve created this fact sheet covering the common types of collars and harnesses available for dogs.

Types of Dog Collars and Harnesses

Flat Buckle Collar. This is your standard dog collar, usually nylon, and featuring a plastic snap buckle closure. It attaches to any leash by means of a bolt snap or spring hook and is ideal for dogs who’ve learned good leash manners. These collars work by restraining the animal’s neck alone, so while they’re fine for most dogs, they are not great if your pooch is an escape artist, a strong puller, or likely to suddenly bolt and run.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to use and requires little effort
  • Great for dogs with good leash manners

Cons

  • Offers less control than a harness
  • Is easily “slipped” if your pet is an escape artist

Martingale Collar. Ideal for the reluctant walker or the dog that backs out of a standard collar, the Martingale (or “limited slip” collar) tightens around your animal’s neck when tension is placed on the leash (by either you or your pet), but the collar will only tighten to a pre-set point. Martingales offer an alternative to a harsher “choke collar” or “choke chain,” which can impede breathing or even cause windpipe damage if pulled tight suddenly.

Pros

  • Moderately priced
  • Easy to use
  • Reduces injury risk seen with “choke” collars

Cons

  • Offers less control than a harness

Body Harness. By fitting around the dog’s torso, rather than around the neck, the body harness offers you more control over your animal, without the risks of neck restraint. Harnesses typically attach by means of a loop on the back and are good for dogs who are escape artists or strong pullers. This added control comes at the price of requiring more effort from you, so if your pet is a willful mastiff with less-than-perfect leash manners, be prepared to expend some effort. There are also front-hook harnesses where the leash hook attaches to a loop at the front of the harness, on your animal’s chest. These are great for reluctant walkers.

Pros

  • Superior control
  • Shard to “slip”
  • Eliminates risk for neck or throat injury

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Can tangle and be tricky to put on

Head Halter. The head halter works like a horse halter around the snout to gently guide your animal without placing pressure on the neck or chest. (Probably the most well-known brand is the Gentle Leader.) Head halters are great as training collars, especially for small breed or young dogs that are still learning their leash manners.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Superior head control
  • Great training lead

Cons

  • Offers less control than a harness
  • Less effective with large breed or hard-to-control dogs

Dog Collar Safety, Materials, and Sizing

For the safety of your pet, be sure to choose gear that is size-appropriate. Most collar and harness brands come in a wide range of sizes—from teacup to extra-large—and are often keyed to your dog’s weight. When in doubt, go a size larger rather than smaller, especially with any restraint that fits around your pet’s neck. No restraint should ever limit your animal’s ability to breathe, eat, drink, or swallow.

Materials these days are usually nylon or other synthetics, though traditional leather collars, leashes, and harnesses are available. Harnesses should fit snugly but should not restrict movement or breathing. Don’t leave your dog in a wet harness, as this can increase the chance for skin irritation. If any part of your dog’s gear produces irritation, chafing, or hot spots, see your vet. Vets have seen nearly every type of restraint for dogs and can help recommend an alternative. 

Editor’s Note: Keep your dog warm and dry in the harsh winter weather. From dog booties to sweaters, here are recommendations on winter pet gear.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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